Layer 1

Pharmacies 'accept' abuse in 'fear' of losing business

PDA Union's Paul Day: Funding cuts may make it harder for employers to protect staff
PDA Union's Paul Day: Funding cuts may make it harder for employers to protect staff

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) Union is aware of pharmacies “placating” abusive patients, so as to not lose their business, C+D has learned.

National officer Paul Day told C+D that the Union "occasionally" receives reports from members "of situations where a person was abusive or threatening to the pharmacist, and the pharmacy somehow wants to placate that person so as to not lose their business”.

Speaking exclusively to C+D yesterday (May 16), Mr Day gave the example of substance-dependent patients, who may be “regular custom for the pharmacy in terms of finances”.

However, “we cannot permit these people to be rude or assault [staff] just because we might lose income from that service”, he said.

Funding cuts pose further risk

While the incident last month at James McDonagh Pharmacy in west Belfast – which saw two pharmacists stabbed in a failed attempt to steal tramadol – “has made [pharmacists] more aware of their personal safety at work”, it is an issue that “constantly comes up”, Mr Day said.

The current pressures on the sector could make the situation worse, he added: “The pharmacy cuts will undoubtedly make it harder for pharmacies to find the budget to implement measures to keep their staff safe.”

“It is not just about having the money to install a panic button. If the patient experience is declining, the atmosphere is going to become more abrasive,” he said.

"Something as simplistic as having a clear sign displayed in the pharmacy that says: 'Your prescription will take 25 minutes [to prepare] before you receive it'," will help manage patients' expectations, Mr Day said (see box below for more tips).

Whose role is it to protect staff?

The government has a role to play in funding measures to keep pharmacy staff safe, but “pharmacy owners are not relieved of their duty of care to their employees”, he stressed.

“There is always a risk when dealing with the public, especially in a pharmacy where the public are often in pressured situations,” Mr Day said.

The PDA Union has produced a guidance and resource pack for pharmacists to help mitigate the risks they face at work.

Mr Day's tips for protecting staff at work

  • Alert staff to what to do when they face a threat at work
  • Ensure they have received relevant safety training
  • Place mirrors at the top of any blind corners to give staff more visibility in the pharmacy
  • Consider collaborating with other stores on the high street to share safety measures
  • Contact local police for guidance.
Have you experienced a violent crime in your pharmacy?

Seal Patel, Community pharmacist

We have to accept abuse, if we don't the rx may end up elsewhere....

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

I have zero tolerance policy and I'm 5ft 5 and have got 6ft drug addicts out of the shop !!! I don't take no crap from no-one. They all get told the truth as it is. If they don't like it, they can go somewhere else. I don't want their custom, because it only brings me problems, even if the takings go down a little, it's worth it for not having to deal with the stress and the 'must have it now / must have teva brand/ i've got a taxi waiting/ ' etc.   Also, " I'm unable to work to bus timetables",  is another good quote! 


Jonny Johal, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

Abusive patients, 30+ years as a pharmacist, they never bothered me. On the other hand, those jobs-worth pharmacists who provoke patients in the name of 'the law', those who are always looking for an excuse not to dispense (the dispensing prevention officers) - they bother me. 

R S, Community pharmacist

I agree with Sau, some pharmacists just look for a reason to make patients lives difficult, I manage a branch and see it occasionally, their get out of jail free card is it's professional judgement, I feel powerless to intervene

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

As an older pharmacist (25yrs doing it) to me it seems the four year degree has changed the way they are trained. It seems to be instead of getting on with the job, they seem to actively look for problems or are over-cautious of 'what might happen' etc. So they feel the need to 'do something'  e.g. say No to the patient, call the Dr, wait for the Dr to ring back, not make a decision. I find following on from these newly qualified jobsworths the next day very frustating. One wouldn't give a generic beclomethasone nasal spray because it hadn't got the word aqueous on the box as the script said !  Absolute madness!  I wish they had kept the degree at 3 yrs and not opened a dozen schools of pharmacy. The profession is ruined. 

Meera Sharma, Community pharmacist

For pharmacists working for private companies, "Zero Tolerance Policy" does not apply. I should know, I asked for a copy to be placed at the counter at one point, and was told didn't apply as it was a private company!! However, we are doign work under NHS terms of service, so why shouldn't it?! PDA Guidance - please check if it can be used by the multiples, who refuse to display despite having long-waiting times due to lack of staff and the pharmacist gets it in the neck constantly. Fun working environment, especially late nights!

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

It is sad to say that, although not violent, abuse by patients is not limited to those on substance misuse support. There are those patients who become "very agitated" if their prescription is not ready, even if this is as a result of circumstances out with the control of the pharmacy. The company I work for operates a "zero tolerance" policy. The simple fact of requiring one is a sad indictment of modern society.

Valentine Trodd, Community pharmacist

One of the scariest things a community pharmacist can hear... 'can I have the number of your head office please?'...

Oh no!!!

Ben Merriman, Community pharmacist

Am I right in thinking that abuse of pharmacy staff still doesn't fall within the NHS Zero Tolerance Policy, unlike our colleagues in general practice?

Paul Dishman, Pharmaceutical Adviser

The patients don't know that Ben, so you can still quote it at them

Job of the week

Pharmacist Manager
Midlands, Cheshire & Dorset
Salary dependent upon experience